The social contract is a philosophical-political idea that seeks to outline the appropriate relationship between individuals in society, and between them and the official decision-makers. The great philosophers of the social contract, who were active in the 17th and 18th centuries, sought, by use of this metaphor, to instill the idea that political power is a property entrusted in the hands of government office holders for the sake of the public. Moreover, there are certain conditions that must exist for the use of government power to be legitimate. The most important condition is a concern for the rights of the individual. The other side of the contract is that it is better for an individual to be living in a civil society, rather than in nature - in other words, a society which is based on the principle of the social contract. Not only does the good of the people require them to live in a civil society; according to Kant, they have a moral obligation to do so. As long as the state respects the social contract, citizens are morally obligated to obey the law.
The social contract, as was well known to Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, and the important contemporary philosopher John Rawls, was never signed in any country. The basis for the contract is not historical, and it is not anchored in empirical reality. States were not founded on the basis of the social contract, and the reason that citizens obey the law is not that they have signed any kind of contract - neither they, nor their parents, nor their ancestors. The social contract is a metaphor for a just society, and it should enable us to assess how well the state is functioning. At the same time, it should be clear that, contrary to recent conventional thinking, the social contract is a not a written charter, nor is the idea based on the logic of the free market. A deviation from the ideals of the social contract is not equal to a violation of an economic contract, requiring economic sanctions, as occurs in the case of economic agreements. Such thinking reflects primarily the internalization of market logic, even among those who wish to live in a just society.
In general, Israel was and remains a state of law where most of the citizens vote for their elected officials. The majority of the public is a partner, at least indirectly and partially, to the enactment of the laws to which it is subject and to which it is committed to, at least legally. On a less abstract level, regretfully it must be said that the state of Israel respects the social contract only in relation to its Jewish citizens. Its Arab citizens have never been treated as equals politically, and the state has never respected their rights in the same way that it has respected the rights of Jews. In other words, the relationship between the state and its Arab citizens is not a relationship based on the principles of the social contract, but rather on coercion, manipulation, bargaining and other methods that allow, in practice, for Jews and Arabs to live in the same space, one alongside the other. This does not mean that the relationship between the state and the Arabs did not know better or worse days, but the organizing principle of these relationships has not been the social contract, but instead considerations of deterrence, balance of power and real-politic - internal and external.
What about the Jewish majority? Is it possible to see a difference between the attitudes of the younger and the older generations in terms of their connection to the state? Has the confidence in the institutions of state, politicians and leaders in various fields, including, law, journalism and economics, changed over time? Here you can point to at least three major changes.
The Early Years - Obligations of the Citizens
First, during the period when the state was emerging, most of its energy was channeled into absorbing tens of thousands of immigrants, establishing institutions and creating a monopoly on the use of coercion and force, and less was devoted to matters of principle. In the first decade of the state and the "social contract," most of the public was devoid of political consciousness and had almost no impact on the use of government power. If anyone spoke about the social contract it was not the ordinary citizen; the latter was just trying to manage and survive during the harsh reality after World War II, the austerity measures, the mass migrations, the limitations and, believe it or not, the lack of equality. The ordinary citizen usually voted for the ruling party, Mapai, and did what he was told. This did not apply to everyone, of course, but political involvement and political discourse was mainly carried out by government officials or their associates. Today, those who talk about the social contract are we the citizens. And it is the elected officials who have raised questions about the country's borders and who weaken its institutions - for example, by reducing their powers, privatization, and the appointment of individuals who are unqualified to fulfill their responsibilities - in a way that allows the country to exist as a modern, law-abiding state.
Secondly, and in a manner which can be related to the first point that I mentioned, the accepted interpretation of the idea of the social contract was the obligations of citizens, and not their rights. That is, the "contract" was interpreted in Israeli society as a demand made first of all on the citizens and the younger generation, not as a demand made on the state and its leaders. Under the aegis of the pioneering idea and the pioneer, which were still an inherent part of the political discourse, the citizen was expected to go to live and work on the kibbutzim and moshavim, to serve in the army, to do as much reserve duty as required, to contribute to the common good and so on. If he did not do these things, then he committed a sin vis-à-vis the state, its values and ideals and their realization, and ultimately against himself. In recent years, however, a shift can be seen in terms of talking about rights rather than obligations, and very recently, a transition to talk about in general, and social justice in particular. It can be said that the advent of the discourse on rights took place in the eighties and nineties, while the transition to a focused discourse on the just allocation of social resources are the result of a disillusionment, at least among some of the younger generation, with neoliberalism and what is incorrectly labeled the "free market."
Thirdly, in the early years of the state, it was very acceptable to criticize the younger generation and to complain that they were not doing enough for the public good and for the country. Shurat Hamitnadvim (the Volunteer Corps), for example, was established in the early 1950s primarily due to the younger generation's disappointment with itself and the general public. As this initiative was on the verge of collapse, Member of Knesset S. Yizhar gave a famous speech at the Mapai Convention in June 1960, where he said that the younger generation was "an Espresso Generation," - "bitter, fast and cheap." The important writer accused the youth of not looking back in anger, but rather looking down in comfort. The essence of their lives consisted of having fun, careerist aspirations and boredom. The younger generation demanded comfort and money and is turned off by politics. There were, of course, those who criticized David Ben-Gurion and the ruling party, the most prominent among them journalist Uri Avnery in his paper "Haolam Hazeh." But beyond the fact that this criticism was primarily directed at a betrayal of ideals and a deviation from the Zionist idea - and less about the fact that the social contract was not being implemented - we must remember that this was a fringe group within the Israeli political culture. And finally, and as a result, the one who demanded and hinted at treason or a breach of contract, who protested, was disappointed, withdrew and then came back again was Ben-Gurion, not the public that elected him and considered him their authority figure.
The Targets of Criticism Began to Change
Since the War of Attrition and the 1973 War, however, the criticism has been directed at public employees and elected officials. These wars were to some extent also the result of the incompetency of the political leadership, which led to disillusionment and disappointment and a sense that the leaders "did not keep their part" of the social contract. In recent years, the criticism has grown and spread, and today is also leveled at the directors of public companies, bankers and mini-tycoons, including Yitzhak Tshuva, Nochi Dankner and Ilan Ben-Dov, who made fortunes in speculation, investment and leverage that were generously funded by the pension funds of the public, banks and government. This change in the object of criticism reflects the fact that the disappointment is not only with politicians and parliamentarians, but also with the free market.
More importantly, this criticism reflects the fact that there was a point in time when the public truly believed that the free market was the remedy for their disappointment with politicians; it expresses, therefore, failed expectations that privatizing public resources and reducing the direct involvement of the state in the economy would benefit the public, increase social services and possibly even reduce inequality. Naturally, not only did the object of criticism change over the years and become more diverse, but also the analogies and metaphors: The "Espresso Generation" from the days of S. Yizhar were replaced by "suits, cigars and Akirov Towers" (the luxurious apartments where Ehud Barak lived). All are foreign to the pioneering nature of the 1950s, all manifestations of excessive wealth, of decadent Western culture and ostentatious behavior, which does not express solidarity but instead a desire to draw attention to oneself and inspire envy. Those who are threatening to quit are not "the Old Man" (Ben-Gurion), but the public, and they are not withdrawing to the Sdeh Boker in the Negev (as Ben-Gurion did after he retired), but refusing to vote, moving to Los Angeles, retreating into cyberspace and then returning to the streets, to Rothschild Boulevard, to the square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, to the Horev Center in Haifa - demonstrating, hoping, longing for change and again threatening to quit.
The Future - the Prophets of Neoliberalism or a New Social Contract?
What does the future hold? Will our end be like Ben-Gurion's? Shall we withdraw, isolated, disappointed and abandoned to our fate until our bitter end? The younger generation consists of numerous groups, and it is alternating, apparently, between three major options: withdrawal, in one manner or another; increased support for neoliberalism, including politicians like Yair Lapid or Binyamin Netanyahu, who promise to deliver a fairer marketplace, eliminate the big unions or draft yeshiva students; and the third option, which is to formulate a new agenda, based on the recognition that the idea of the social contract is simply a moral-mental exercise, designed to allow us to think about what a just society should look like, that reminds us that there is no suitable alternative to living in a society based on such a contract.
In any case, those who support the social contract and its ethos should take into account that the contract is essentially a vision that has to be filled with content, and yes, in order to achieve such a contract one must fight for it. So, where do we go from here? In the long run, Keynes reminded us, all of us, that like Ben-Gurion, we all die. But until then, hopefully, we will choose not to quit as the "Old Man" did, and will choose not to put our trust in the neoliberal option that the "new politicians" offer us. The younger generation should re-formulate the social contract, and should do it boldly, decisively - and with all the groups and citizens living in Israel.<